Internet is on Cafe Pangea's menu

August 29, 1996|By LAURA ROTTENBERG | LAURA ROTTENBERG,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Early in the 20th century, a German meteorologist named Wegener proposed a revolutionary theory. He claimed that 225 million years ago the land on Earth was one gigantic mass, which he called Pangea (Greek for "all land"). This land mass then rifted, he said, to form our present continents.

Whether you subscribe to this continental drift theory or not, you have to admit Cafe Pangea is a great name for Baltimore's first Internet cafe.

With a logo that resembles a globe inset with human profiles in a clever jigsaw fit, Cafe Pangea describes itself as "the world connection cafe." But in addition to providing Internet access to those of us who still inhabit the pre-World-Wide-Web dark ages, Cafe Pangea can also be credited with bringing hipness and contemporary, affordable cafe fare to its Hampden neighborhood.

A charming Victorian exterior, complete with wraparound porch, belies the chic interior. Near the entrance, a lounge area stocked with current magazines feels like the waiting area of an ultra-posh New York hair salon. The rest of the restaurant is all spare, light wood, black Italian track lighting, and Rothko-esque paintings by Terry Nauheim.

One side of the dining room is taken up with computer terminals, where patrons can sip wine (a dozen reasonably priced wines by the glass), surf the Net and wait for dinner.

Cafe Pangea's sandwiches are interpretations of Tuscan favorites. During our visit earlier this month we see that they very sensibly depend on the vibrancy of summer produce. Nothing could be more emphatically seasonal than pan bagna, a sandwich of crusty wheat bread with vine-ripened tomatoes and red bell peppers, all drizzled with olive oil and speckled with little explosions of caper, Kalamata olive and fresh basil and mint. (The challenge for Cafe Pangea will be to adapt the menu to accommodate winter's wan tomatoes, anemic peppers, etc.)

Gorgeous, herb-flecked focaccia bread is the setting for some of the finest sandwiches. One (panini di verdura alla griglia) layers grilled eggplant and zucchini with onions, red bell peppers, ripe roma tomatoes, a thin slice of smoked Gouda and a smear of fragrant pesto. Another marries prosciutto with fresh mozzarella, more roma tomatoes and zingy leaves of basil, mint and oregano. Our favorite is warm focaccia bread enfolding a jumble of roasted red bell peppers, sauteed button mushrooms, mild fontina cheese and a few cranks of cracked black pepper.

The kitchen prepares a handful of side dishes daily. A zesty Mediterranean potato salad pairs new potatoes with feta cheese and bits of tomato and olive. A salad of crisp green beans is napped with a lovely raspberry vinaigrette.

Strangely, this high-style, ultra-contemporary cafe ran a special on deviled eggs one evening, which our waitress presented to us with her best June Cleaver flourish. They were pleasant and homey, but the Woman's Industrial Exchange's version still reigns supreme.

Except for a "chocolate lover's bonanza iced brownie," the desserts are made off premises. That's OK, though, because choices include Vaccaro's heavenly cannoli cake and pine nut cream cake and a velvety chocolate mousse cake from the French Ovens.

The only clunker we tried was a pretty little tart filled with bland hillocks of hazelnut chocolate cream. Coffee drinks are potent (even the summery iced cappuccino has a serious dark-roast kick), and make satisfying meal enders with the addition of simple, crisp biscotti. Ah, the global village never tasted so good.

Cafe Pangea

4007 Falls Road

(410) 662-0500

Hours: Tuesdays through Thursdays, 7: 30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 8 a.m.-midnight; Sundays 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Credit cards: Major credit cards

Prices: Sandwiches, $4.50-$5.50

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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